Monday, January 5, 2015

Palmetto Islands County Park: Osprey and Nature Island Trails (Blog Hike #502)

Trails: Osprey and Nature Island Trails
Hike Location: Palmetto Islands County Park
Geographic Location: northwest of Mt. Pleasant, SC
Length: 1.9 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2014
Overview: A flat nature hike with good marshland views.

Directions to the trailhead: On the east side of Charleston, take I-526 to Long Point Road (exit 28).  Exit and go east on Long Point Rd.  Drive Long Point Rd. 1.9 miles to Needlerush Parkway; there is a traffic circle at this intersection.  Take the traffic circle’s second exit to head north on Needlerush ParkwayNeedlerush Parkway ends at the park entrance 1.4 miles later.  Park in the sand/gravel parking lot in front of the Park Center, where this hike begins.

The hike: Located on the east side of suburban Charleston, Palmetto Islands County Park occupies 943 acres on a double peninsula of land surrounded by saltwater marsh.  The somewhat developed park offers several amenities, including Splash Island (a small water park), a playground, several picnic shelters, a kayak launch, and several fishing docks.  The people of Charleston are fortunate to have a park like this one so close to the city.
The park’s name comes from the numerous wooded islands that dot the marsh.  While several of the islands are slated for future trail construction, only one of them is currently accessible by trail; that island is called Nature Island.  The park has several interesting short hiking trails, but this hike focuses on Nature Island, the main natural feature in this park.
Osprey Trail starts at boardwalk
Start at the east side of the Park Center where the dirt Osprey Trail leaves the paved Bicycle Trail.  The Osprey Trail is marked with yellow plastic diamond blazes, but its starting point is most easily identified by a sign bearing the number 4 that corresponds to stop #4 on the park’s cell phone tour.  The trail immediately heads out onto a wooden boardwalk that offers your first broad marsh views.  But for a nearby high voltage power line and distant cranes belonging to the Port of Charleston, you could mistake this park for a remote saltwater marsh.
Once across the boardwalk, the trail narrows and turns to dirt.  The rest of the Osprey Trail treads through a narrow arc of dry land with the Bicycle Trail on the left and marsh on the right.  Honestly, the Osprey Trail is not the most scenic trail in this park, but as a means to get to Nature Island it easily beats the paved Bicycle Trail.
At 0.3 miles, you reach the signed trail to Nature Island, which exits to the right.  Turn right to follow the green plastic diamond blazes as they head across a sunny boardwalk over the marsh.  This boardwalk had recently been rebuilt on my visit, and I could still see the grassless strip of muddy marsh that sat under the old boardwalk.  The marsh will quickly reclaim the barren strip, so do not expect it to be there on your visit.
Boardwalk to Nature Island
Shortly after reaching Nature Island, the Nature Island Trail splits to form its loop.   As directed by a black arrow printed on a green plastic diamond, I chose to turn left and hike the loop clockwise.  This island is only a couple feet higher in elevation than the surrounding marsh, but it is enough to keep your feet dry and support a mixed pine/deciduous forest with lots of palmetto in the understory.  The island feels like a remote area even though it lies in metropolitan Charleston.
The trail curves right as it stays near the edge of the island.  At 0.7 miles, you pass the western-most point on the island and a bench that gives the trail’s best marsh view.  The water comes right up to the island here, and marsh grass extends for miles to the west.
View west from Nature Island
The trail reaches the island’s northern-most point and another nice marsh view before curving right to cross a wet area on a boardwalk.  Near 1 mile into the hike, you pass an algae-covered pond on the left.  My approach sent a couple of turtles plopping into the water.
Algae-covered pond
Just after passing the pond, you close the Nature Island Trail’s loop.  Turn left and retrace your steps back across the boardwalk to the mainland, then turn right to continue the Osprey Trail’s loop.  As before, the Osprey Trail stays in a narrow strip of land between the marsh on your right and the park road/parking lot on your left.
At 1.5 miles, the trail turns to asphalt as you pass a private residence on the right and cross the parking lot exit and entrance roads.  1.6 miles into the hike, you intersect the paved Bicycle Trail as you pass the park’s playground on your left.  Turn left to begin the final segment of this hike, a wide asphalt path on which the Osprey and Bicycle Trails run conjointly.  0.3 miles later, you reach the back of the Park Center, thus concluding the hike.

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